Clarke: Bush Pressured him to Find Iraq link to 9/11
Dick Clarke’s interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes struck me as powerful and credible. I was struck by the phrase that the Bush administration officials, like Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, were still fighting the cold war and Iraq (“as though preserved in amber”) when they came back in power, and had not adjusted to the new threat of al-Qaeda. He says that Wolfowitz was openly dismissive of al-Qaeda in spring of 2001, and talked about the need instead to focus on Iraqi terrorism against the US. Clarke pointed out that there had not been any in a decade. And, the pressure Bush put on Clarke and others after 9/11 to find an Iraq connection is consistent with what else we know about the distortion and politicization of intelligence.
I have to say I thought that the Afghanistan war was the Bush administration’s finest moment. But it turns out that Rumsfeld and maybe Bush himself went into it somewhat reluctantly, their eyes fixed on Iraq. Clarke’s account even raises the question of who beat back Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld and insisted that Afghanistan and al-Qaeda be dealt with first.
A kind reader resolved this puzzle for me. It was a combination of Tony Blair and Colin Powell, according to Sir Christopher Meyer, the UK ambassador to Washington at that time. See also the comments at Obsidian Wings, a Web Log, on this British connection.
These revelations in turn make Tony Blair’s behavior more understandable. Right after 9/11, it was entirely possible that London should also be hit. MI-6 would have had an excellent appraisal of the jihadi networks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and would have known that the 40 terrorist training camps in Afghanistan were a seething swamp out of which the mosquitoes kept coming to sting the US and Europe. There were even questions at the time about whether a British subject had trained at one of the flight schools.
So, Blair and the British establishment must have been taken aback at the bizarre early stance of the Bush administration, that they intended hit Iraq and leave Bin Laden alone. Indeed, Blair must have been absolutely frantic that the weird Bush crew might plunge the Middle East into chaos while leaving the main threat still operating. So Blair frantically flies to DC, makes an alliance with Powell, and makes a devil’s bargain. The Bushies can have Iraq if they want it. But only at a price: They must take care of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan first. If they do it in that sequence, Blair would provide them a cover against charges of complete unilateral aggression.
The level of cynicism among the anti-Iraq hawks like Wolfowitz, in the wake of a huge national tragedy like September 11, is breathtaking. Even Wolfowitz admitted to Bush that the likelihood Iraq had anything to do with it was between 10 and 50 percent. And, he almost certainly knew that there was no link at all.
For the calculations driving the Necons, see
Eric Margolis’s excellent piece in The American Conservative.